“If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” Thus begins Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” – as good a description as I have ever read of being a CEO. The whole notion of the buck stopping here codifies the fact that whatever decisions are made, whatever actions are taken within the organization, the person at the top is responsible. This creates both great opportunity and great risk for that leader. On the one hand, being in charge allows the leader to formulate a strategic vision for the organization and implement it. On the other hand, failure of either vision or implementation also falls at the desk of the person in charge. Since implementing a vision tends to involve changing things around, the leader must also be prepared to manage and accept the fallout: apprehensive employees, a sense of uncertainty about the future. It requires courage to stay the course.
In the real estate brokerage business, every man is an island. Although most agents work within companies, each leads his or her own small independent contracting business. Some work alone, some work with partners, some work with assistants, some with teams. And within that context, agents face the same challenges as anyone else who manages a business. They must ask the hard questions: is my business model working for me? Do I need to reboot my strategy? Are the people I am working with elevating my game? Am I bringing in enough leads to move my business forward effectively? And if not, why not?
Agents must always be on the move. Ours is no corporate desk job; the agent who is in the office all day is the agent who isn’t making money. Our role, like that of any sales rep, involves going out into the world to make deals and forge relationships. Those relationships must always be renewed and expanded; over time some drop away and must be replaced by others. It is around this issue that all agents need a plan. Waiting for the phone to ring is not a strategy. Nor is waiting for the boss to give you a lead. To revert to Kipling, that is the agent’s version of “blaming it on you.” In this business each of us creates our own pipeline of leads. And our success at that determines our success in the business. Every decent agent can shepherd a deal through to closing; it requires work, knowledge, and persistence, but in most cases these are mechanical skills. Filling the pipeline requires a whole different mindset.
So what works? The process of generating business contains different components for everyone, but certain basic truths hold. First, it’s a 24/7/365 job. We can neither oversell nor undersell our services. We facilitate one of the most significant financial and personal transactions of people’s lives when buying and selling a home. Social media has become an ideal 21st century way for many to keep in contact with their spheres of influence and remain top of mind, but social engagements with the actual and not the virtual person are also of key importance. Second, we must reinvent ourselves every five years. As one sphere closes (the kids’ schools, for example) we must open another: a club, a Board, an activity – any place which gives us an opportunity to represent our value. Third, we must be clear about our value. In the information age, we sell expertise and guidance. Those capabilities have powerful value, but only if we can confidently explain and demonstrate them. And fourth and most important, we must push ourselves. We must move beyond our comfort zones in reaching out to new people and trying new strategies. It isn’t always easy – sometimes it HAS to be hard.
Over the past thirty-five years, I have been a salesman and a CEO (and sometimes both.) Each is running a business. Each requires vision, persistence, and courage. Each depends on the building, maintenance, and occasional termination of relationships. And each can provide the enormous rewards of helping both oneself and others. I wouldn’t have it any other way.